Embracing Diversity and Promoting Community: How One School Risked Conformity for Inclusivity


South Tower- Terrace (end of the hall)

  • Primary Core Competencies: Design of Educational Facilities
  • AIA CEU: 1.0 LU HSW
  • Secondary Core Competencies: Educational Visioning


‘Welcoming’ was the first adjective that leadership offered when brainstorming the vision for a new elementary school in the diverse small city of Harrisonburg, Virginia. And it was one that stuck. Harrisonburg is a prosperous city in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley, and continues to earn its nickname 'the friendly city' by integrating newcomers from around the world into its growing community. As a refugee relocation area, Harrisonburg has experienced the highest school enrollment growth rate in Virginia over the past 7 years. 35% of Harrisonburg City Public Schools students are identified as English Learners, representing over 60 different countries and speaking 57 languages in addition to English. This diversity offers both cultural opportunities for learning and exposure as well as challenges in terms of ensuring appropriate levels of support and development are championed for this unique and growing population. This presentation will highlight how school design can effectively support educational pedagogy while promoting equity and inclusivity, especially for diverse and high need demographics. Finding the right balance between learning and equity is a challenge that affects all schools and communities. Using Harrisonburg's Bluestone Elementary School as one example among others, attendees will be able to visualize methodologies for developing vibrant, welcoming learning environments that effectively foster belonging, social engagement, and meaningful relationships. Results from a recent custom post-occupancy evaluation module, developed in conjunction with the Center for the Built Environment’s standard K-12 post-occupancy survey, will be shared and reinforce lessons learned related to creating an inclusive, safe, and healthy learning environment for a diverse population of students.

Learning Objectives

OBJ #1  Discover educational design solutions for creating a sense of belonging, student autonomy, and inclusivity among diverse student populations.

OBJ #2  Understand how diversified learning spaces can better support personalized learning and individual learning needs.

OBJ #3  Analyze how the site planning of an elementary school can connect students to community assets and the native landscape as well as create ambassadors of the environment.

OBJ #4  Examine how state- and district-level leadership can better prepare teachers and administrators to balance educational outcomes with equity inside and outside of the classroom.

Anne Lintner, Principal, Bluestone Elementary School, Harrisonburg City Public Schools

Kelly Callahan, AIA, Principal, VMDO Architects